RE: Purpose of Tech Comms today

Subject: RE: Purpose of Tech Comms today
From: "McLauchlan, Kevin" <Kevin -dot- McLauchlan -at- safenet-inc -dot- com>
To: "Janoff, Steven" <Steven -dot- Janoff -at- ga -dot- com>, "techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 27 Mar 2013 12:01:43 -0400

Our products are B2B, not consumer.

So we don't have that problem.

If anything, my docs get read by some very ... er... attentive people.
They complain if something is not right. Rightly so.
They complain if something they want to do is not described... even if we didn't imagine anybody would be doing that with our product. :-)
They often suggest improvements and additions, some going to the extent of providing procedures they have tested. (Woohoo! Good problem to have...)

But, now that I think of it, my primary work tool these days is MadCap Flare, and that is definitely B2B and not a consumer product, and while their Help might eventually be where I find my answers, it's never the first place I look. The first place I look is Google, or the MadCap forums. Either one might point me to a place in the Flare Help, and a lot sooner than the Help's built-in search would/could have found what I needed.

I find that about half my problems are resolved by some MadCap documented procedure, often one that I was describing by terms slightly different than they used.
The other half are either resolved by Forum posts about workarounds, or go unresolved.

Someday, we'll make our own product documentation public, and I predict that the simple availability of my material to the forces of Google will cause a reduction in staff in our Tech Support department.
The improvement to Flare built-in Help for WebHelp/HTML5 Help that came with Flare 8, made the results LOOK more Google-like, but they don't have Google search power and ease-of-use behind them. Nor even DuckDuckGo search power. :-)


-----Original Message-----
From: techwr-l-bounces+kevin -dot- mclauchlan=safenet-inc -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com [mailto:techwr-l-bounces+kevin -dot- mclauchlan=safenet-inc -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com] On Behalf Of Janoff, Steven
Sent: March-22-13 3:03 PM
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Subject: Purpose of Tech Comms today

Hi,

Happy Friday.

I know this topic has been beaten to death on this list, but I hope you'll humor me in kicking off another thread that I hope will have a useful perspective. If not, feel free to nuke it from the list. :)

So I'm sitting in a meeting today and it occurs to me that for some of the comms I'm working on now, in Word, nobody is actually going to sit there and read these things.

In fact that's probably true of 99% of what I write, maybe what a lot of us write (but I'll speak for myself here).

Now, I don't have a problem with that... I really don't. Meaning comes from doing the work itself but even more importantly by making a living. Keeping the train going, keeping food on the table, a roof over my head, clothes on the old back -- those are very meaningful things.

But it seems to me that very little of what we actually produce gets used. That's an old observation, I know. In my own case, if I have any issues with something I'm using, especially popular productivity software like Word itself, Excel, etc., I simply Google the problem and find an answer somewhere on the Web. In fact, I've been doing that with just about everything lately -- household tips, medical issues, various repairs, software how-to's, hobby-related research, you name it.

So doesn't it seem like the way we're producing information these days is outdated? I mean, forget Word and the old-school stuff. Even contemporary content management systems and HATs seem to be outdated information models. I mean, they're great for aggregating, reusing, multi-channel publishing and the like, but again, they're information repositories and are they really the right kind?

It seems we consume information in a newer way than before, so there ought to be a way to produce information to meet that new paradigm. I have no idea how it would be done. But I can tell you, I have very little patience for traditional models of "consuming" information. I mean, I still love books, and I order books almost every other day. And they pile up and maybe I get to scan them or read a page or two here and there. But I don't have time (or patience) to read a book all the way through. I'll hit-and-run little articles on the web here and there. Typical web research is a hodge-podge of information, a combination of Wikipedia, blogs, various articles in media outlets, reviews of books on Amazon (without necessarily buying the book), Google searches -- really just a myriad of different sources although there are typically some steady ones like Wikipedia and Amazon.

Information used to be contained in silos. A book was a very meaningful thing. It was a very localized "place" for research, and when you cited it, it was almost holy. So you had these very discrete, specific "waypoints" which were usually landmark works. These still exist. There are landmark papers, articles, and books in just about every area. But today, information is all over the place. Some of the sources are watered down and sketchy, some are point-on and magnificent. But it's all very loose.


And I think that's why tech writing is so hard to pin down anymore, relative to this ADHD way of finding information. We still produce very specific pieces, these discrete units of information, be it a manual, a help system, even a wiki. I don't care if you have a thousand topics that you're reusing somewhere, it's still in this unitary form. It's somehow unified. Human search on the Web doesn't follow that pattern. We're now used to consuming so many different styles of information presentation. I can look at a hundred web pages in researching something, and come across a hundred different prose styles or presentation styles. And it doesn't slow me down. Whereas, if I'm reading a single information source with a hundred pages and the same writing style throughout, *that* will slow me down. Maybe what characterizes this new way of consuming info is "variety," which is refreshing, and maybe that's part of the lure. I do know that once I get on Google or Wikipedia or Amazon when researching something, it's non-stop and I could stay preoccupied for hours and hours at a time, digging down into something, or "going down the rabbit hole," as a reviewer put it somewhere.

Information is endless and boundless. And I think that's a good thing. But it makes tech comms look very pale in some ways. There's no way we can keep up with this newer mode of fact-finding.

Anyway, it'd be interesting to come up with a new paradigm of Tech Comms to mirror this kind of search method. I know this has been written about, at least in those words, but I don't think I've seen it really address the matter with a solution that maps to the user's experience and motivation when doing these searches.

I'm curious about your thoughts. Thanks.

Steve


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Purpose of Tech Comms today: From: Janoff, Steven

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